I’ve been in Vancouver for almost a week – and what a week it’s been!
It began with a two-day journey with some tough goodbyes, and, in typical Canadian fashion, ended with beautiful mountains and great hospitality.
The journey itself wasn’t too bad; the flights were pretty good and amazingly all four were on schedule (which is a miracle given how timetabled my whole itinerary was – and how foggy Orkney was). I caught up with friends in Brighton and ate delicious Japanese food, and a family friend was on my first flight from Orkney which was nice, and I successfully navigated buses and trains around my flights without a hitch.
But I did have the three hour layover from hell. So let me tell you aaallllll about that.
18 months ago, I declared Toronto airport the worst I’ve ever been to.
I still stand by that statement. After over two hours in immigration (in which they made you queue for the declaration that you could previously fill out at your leisure on the plane, followed by a disorganised mess that was the queue for the actual border control, followed by another queue to one guy passing people through, followed by ANOTHER queue if you had to have follow ups – like me with a work visa), I walked into the absolute chaos that was the baggage reclaim room.
Presumably because of how long people were taking in immigration, bags were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. But it’s okay, I’d heard an announcement saying any Westjet flights that were connecting within Canada didn’t need to collect their bags, so I made a beeline for the exit (which had another queue). At the exit, I noticed a sign saying any passengers on these four specific Westjet flights didn’t need to collect their bags; all others did. Mine wasn’t on the list, so in a panic, I went to turn back through the sea of people. An Indian woman started shouting angrily at me as I tried to get through. How the hell was I going to find my bag in this?! People were everywhere, bags were everywhere, there seemed to be no organisation whatsoever.
So I did what anyone would do when they’re stuck: I asked someone (which in itself took a while), only to receive a nonchalant shrug and “you’ll have to ask at the desk.” WHAT DESK?! I can’t see a desk through the thousands of people or bags! Incredibly, I found the desk all the way back by immigration, and right next to the desk was my bag. I made a mad dash for the exit, which took around 5 minutes to get through (I have never, EVER had that at an airport before).
Finally out from that madness, I follow directions to connections and thankfully there’s a Westjet desk just round the corner. I drop my bag and she tells me to put it on the belt at the other side of the room. A man watches me approach and calls out to me to use one of the bins (like the ones you use at security). Seriously? I can’t just put my bag straight on the belt? I then struggled like hell to get it into the box because every time I put it on the belt, it would go too fast! I felt like a total idiot, and the man who apparently “works” there didn’t bother to help. I am relatively healthy and in my 20s. I presume he would ignore everyone else in the same manner.
Thankful that that unexpected part was over, I marched back through to departures… to find I had to go through security again – another unexpected delay that I could have done without. I started frantically unpacking because I was woefully unprepared for having to take my laptop and my liquids and emptying my pockets out again, while the woman in security shouted – literally shouted – at me. She was making everyone take a new tray for each item and almost had a fit when I emptied my pockets and put money in there. “YOU DON’T NEED TO PUT THESE IN!!” Her shrill scream made me jump as she (almost literally) threw the money back in my face. She made me panic so much that I forgot to take my belt off and set the buzzer off, and then in my haste I tripped over and they told me off for running. Then my bag got searched AND they tested my laptop (two separate people, also extremely rude). I now had 20 minutes before my flight was due to leave, let alone the gate closing.
I RAN. Luckily when I dropped my bag off, the woman had told me which gate it was, because let me tell you it’s the most confusing gate I’ve ever had to find – and naturally, it was also the other end of the airport. It wasn’t even a gate number that was on any signs, so I took a wrong turn and panicked. 10 minutes to go. A final boarding call was announced and about ten of us ran the length of a corridor of FOUR of those travelators. That’s how long the corridor was, and there were two of them. Then two escalators. Then another corridor. And finally, when you thought you were getting there, ha HA! Nope. You think gate B2 is the same as B2C? Try adding on ANOTHER few minutes walk, motherfucker. Sprinting from security, it took me over ten minutes to get to my gate.
So fuck you, Toronto. You gave me a headache for my subsequent five hour flight, and you didn’t even give me time to get a Tim Horton’s, which was the one thing getting me through that damn two and a half hour immigration queue. Fuck you.
So Toronto airport aside, I am loving Canada. I’m loving Vancouver as a city and Canada as a country, but my mixed emotions have provided me with a few days of homesickness and uncertainty.
Because after everything from visa issues to job issues to everything else, I am doing this alone. I’ve left Ash behind and it’s really hard, and I’m not going to pretend it’s not.
I spent my first few days in a hostel but was never feeling social enough to really come out of my shell and instead cocooned myself into solitude. Naturally, as is hostel life, I haven’t been totally anti-social and I’ve loved hearing everyone’s stories of where they are on their own adventures. The German guy who flew back home that night after a year working here, literally finishing his Canadian adventure the day I started mine. The English guy who’s just winging it for the next ten days because he couldn’t get anyone to come with him. The Irish guy who’s out visiting his sister who’s just moved here.
And my favourite: the English girl who is going back to Seattle today to take part in a sailing race… to NEW YORK. Via PANAMA. Come on. Way to make my plans look boring.
I’ve changed it up and have spent the last three nights staying with an awesome couchsurfing host who has one of the best views in Vancouver and is incredibly generous and supportive. As you might know, I’m really active on couchsurfing myself as a host, so I’m no stranger to it, but it’s really refreshing to see so much humanity. This is the view from my bed, seriously.
Additionally, my friends have been super. I’ve barely seen Jeremy (who I lived with in Brisbane) but he’s got me a job at his place of work. It’s kitchen work, and I have no idea if I’ll be any good. I hope for his sake that I am, because it was incredibly kind of him to refer me in the first place. Another friend very kindly paid for dinner the other night despite my protests, and we had a really lovely evening together. She’s offered me a lift if I need one and has generally been really supportive which I’m thankful for.
It’s nice to not be alone in a new city, especially when I feel very alone without Ash. So I feel lucky to have this network around me that can pick me up.
Views like this help, too.
I’ve spent the last week doing a lot of walking. On my first day, I decided that I’d have a chilled day, partly because I had arrived at 9pm the previous night, which felt like 5am UK time. I wandered down to the waterfront for the beautiful views of Grouse mountain, enjoyed of course with a Tim Horton’s hot chocolate that I hadn’t been able to indulge in at all the previous day.
And then I thought, “screw it, Stanley Park’s only over there, might as well meander along there.” When I got to Stanley Park, I thought I might as well go to the totem poles. Now the last time I went, I was on a bike, and I remembered it taking no time at all to get to the totem poles. But walking is very different. By the time I got back to the hostel, I had walked over 12km. Some chill day that was!
I suppose it was chilled though, because I fell asleep before 7pm and woke up, very annoyed with myself, at 1am. Luckily I managed to sleep through until about 5am, but I couldn’t believe I had almost avoided jetlag and then exhausted myself anyway!
On Thursday, I convinced myself that I would have a lazy day this time, and promptly booked myself on a hiking tour of Lynn Canyon with the hostel when I spoke to two people at breakfast who were doing it. This led to a mad dash because I had to go downtown to sort out my SIN number (social insurance, basically national insurance or social security) and then when I went to extend my stay another night, I had to move rooms which meant I had to check out.
I only just made it on the tour (time wise AND numbers wise – it was fully booked so I was on standby) but I’m glad I did. The hike was actually harder and longer than I expected (lots of uphill for my already sore feet and legs!) but there were some nice views that my camera had to miss because I’d left my fucking SD card in my laptop.
We stopped at a spot with unreal looking green water into which someone jumped, went to a lovely little lake, and crossed a suspension bridge that unlike Capilano, is actually free. It wasn’t exactly one of the most beautiful places in Canada, but it was nice and somewhere different.
I did finally have a couple of downtime(ish) days, although Friday ironically ended up being my most stressful day so far, mixing moving and job interviews and nothing working out the way it should have done. It was also pretty successful in the end; I got a bank account, a sim card, a new place to stay and a job. All’s well that ends well, I guess!
And I ended the week on a high, with a spontaneous day trip to Whistler yesterday. I realise I have rambled on for about 2,000 words (and half of it was complaining about Toronto) so I’ll write a separate post about Whistler – it merits its own post anyway – but I will tell you that I bumped into the Seattle sailing girl and we spent the rest of the day together, which was awesome!
I’m sad that she’s leaving Vancouver tomorrow (and so is she!), but as is always the way with travel, there will be new friends around the corner.
One week down; many to go. Bring on the adventures!